Ukrainians in the United Kingdom
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Information, lobbying and campaigning – activities of Ukrainian organisations and individuals in the United Kingdom aimed at disseminating information about Ukraine and securing the support of the British government and public for Ukraine-related causes.

To 1945

Before the First World War the aim of an independent Ukraine was promoted by Vladimir Stepankowsky and George Raffalovich. After the war the diplomatic mission of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UNR) in London sought to secure recognition of the UNR by the British government, and the mission of the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic (ZUNR) subsequently lobbied for the independence of the ZUNR on the formerly Austrian territory of Eastern Galicia.

In the 1930s the lobbying efforts of various bodies and individuals addressed matters such as denouncing the communist system in the Soviet Union, dissemination of information about the 1930 Pacification in Galicia and the Holodomor famine of 1932-33 in Soviet Ukraine, and upholding the rights of Ukrainians in the Subcarpathian Ruthenia province of Czechoslovakia. Most active were the Ukrainian Bureau headed by Vladimir Kaye (Kysilewsky); Vladimir Korostovetz, representative of the émigré hetmanite movement; Eugene Lachowitch, who represented the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN); and the Ukrainian National Information Service run by Stephen Davidovich.

1945-1991

Lobbying and campaigning played a prominent role in the life of the post-Second World War Ukrainian community, which consisted mainly of political émigrés. On arriving in the UK they found a high level of ignorance about Ukraine among the British public, and the community began to take steps to raise awareness of Ukraine’s history and culture, and of the situation prevailing in the country at that time. Among the topics highlighted were the aspirations of Ukrainians for an independent state and the underground liberation struggle in Soviet Ukraine carried on by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army until the mid-1950s. The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain (AUGB), the Federation of Ukrainians in Great Britain and other community organisations all became involved in these efforts, often in cooperation with political organisations which were active at the time. In many cases activities were also coordinated with those of Ukrainian communities in other countries of the Ukrainian diaspora.

Some organisations began to publish and disseminate English-language periodicals, as well as brochures and leaflets, containing information intended for British readers. Particularly active in this regard was the Ukrainian Information Service, founded in 1949. Other activities included establishing contacts with Members of Parliament and other influential figures to inform them of matters relating to Ukraine, writing letters to the press, and donating books on Ukraine to local libraries. In 1948-49 the community lobbied (unsuccessfully) for the introduction of Ukrainian-language BBC broadcasts for listeners in Ukraine and, separately, for the recent immigrants to the UK. Similar efforts were repeated in subsequent years. In towns and cities with significant concentrations of Ukrainians, street marches and other public demonstations were organised to protest against political and religious repression in Ukraine. The community also used concerts, exhibitions and other cultural events as vehicles for the dissemination of information on Ukraine.

Initiatives were organised to inform the British public about the Holodomor famine, particularly in major anniversary years, beginning in 1953. News of Ukrainian political prisoners in Soviet concentration camps began to reach the West after the death of Joseph Stalin, and in 1956 an information campaign was organised in their support. Other actions included protests during visits to the UK of prominent figures from the USSR, such as Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin (1956), Alexei Kosygin (1967) and Alexander Shelepin (1975), and UK tours of the Red Army Choir and other ensembles.

From the second half of the 1960s the information, lobbying and campaigning activities of Ukrainians in the UK intensified significantly as a result of increased political repression in Ukraine. Various efforts in defence of Ukrainian political prisoners and in support of the dissident movement in Ukraine were organised, including demonstrations in the vicinity of the Soviet Embassy in London, distribution of leaflets, gathering of signatures for petitions, and occasional radio or television interviews. Descendants of the post-war immigrants began to be increasingly involved in organising and carrying out such activities, notably through the Ukrainian Youth Association in Great Britain and the Ukrainian Students Union in Great Britain. In 1976-1978 a group of young British Ukrainians made a half-hour television documentary about Ukraine which was broadcast twice in April 1978 as part of the BBC’s Open Door series.

In 1974 a Committee for the Defence of Ukrainian Political Prisoners in the USSR, comprising representatives of various community organisations, was formed. The Association of Ukrainian Women in Great Britain was particularly active in defence of women political prisoners. At various times between the 1950s and the 1980s, Ukrainian organisations cooperated with British individuals and representatives of other Eastern European nationalities through bodies such as the Anglo-Ukrainian Society, the Mazepa Society, the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations, local Captive Nations Committees, the Polish-Ukrainian Society in London, the European Freedom Council and the European Liaison Group.

There was a further increase in activity in the second half of the 1980s, after the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster and in the light of the political liberalisation taking place in the USSR at that time. Several new action groups were formed, including the Ukrainian Peace Committee (1986), the Ukrainian Press Agency (1987), the British Section of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union (1989), and The Chornobyl Committee (1991). In 1988, as part of the millennial commemoration of the adoption of Christianity in Kyivan Rus, an information campaign was conducted to highlight the historical development of the Church in Ukraine as distinct from that in Russia.

Since 1991

After the establishment of independent Ukraine, the information and lobbying activities of the UK Ukrainian community were refocused on issues such as urging UK government support for Ukraine, protesting against threats to the country’s independence, encouraging investment in Ukraine by British businesses, and generally raising awareness of developments in Ukraine. These ends have been pursued mainly through contacts with government and business individuals, public lectures and seminars, and various online activities. The efforts of existing bodies such as the AUGB and the Ukrainian Institute London have been complemented by those of organisations formed after 1991, including the British-Ukrainian Law Association (1993), the Ukrainian-British City Club (2005) and the British Ukrainian Society (2007).

The AUGB continues to organise campaigns aimed at raising public awareness of the consequences of the 1986 Chornobyl disaster, and persuading the UK government to acknowledge that the Holodomor famine was an act of genocide. There have also been public demonstrations against specific developments in Ukraine such as the falsification of results of the 2004 presidential election, the government’s failure to sign an association agreement with the European Union in 2013, the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and the Russian intervention in Eastern Ukraine. The London Euromaidan group has been particularly active in organising such protests.

Roman Krawec